The starting area of any Souls game has a lot of heavy lifting. It has to teach the player the basics of the game and set the ground rules for what they will experience next. It has to be visually appealing, so players aren’t immediately turned off by what they’re seeing. And above all, you need a good boss or group of bosses who will challenge but not overwhelm. This list breaks down the most common starting areas players will encounter throughout the Soulsborne genre, ranked from least to most effective.
7. Dark Souls 2: Forest of Fallen Giants
Dark Souls 2 is a controversial entry in the franchise, but the variety of levels and level designs cannot be denied. There are several different locations where players can end up after reaching Majula, but the most common is probably the Forest of Fallen Giants. This level is well organized, relatively complex, and does everything an opening level needs to do. However, it’s not particularly interesting, nor are its bosses good examples of quality compared to others in the game. Lastly, its aesthetic is more generic than the others on this list, so while it generally serves its purpose, it’s the last one on this list.
6. Dark Souls 3: High Wall of Lothric
The High Wall of Lothric, like the Forest of Fallen Giants, is a perfectly functional opening area but it doesn’t do much to generate awe in a player. Comprised of gothic-style architecture, as much of Dark Souls 3 is, and featuring one of the game’s least impressive bosses (Vordt of the Boreal Valley), High Wall does what it’s supposed to do, but little else. . It’s a bit elevated above the Forest because the Boreal Valley Dancer fight, available whenever you want, and the Lothric Castle and Undead Settlement connection areas are much better examples of good Souls level design.
5. Dark Souls: Undead Burg
The first major location most Souls players will likely ever experience, the Undead Burg isn’t the biggest or the most visually impressive location. Instead, it has moments of surprise and shock that stand the test of time and lay the groundwork for everything that follows. The sudden appearance of the Hellkite Drake on the bridge as you enter the second area, the lone Black Knight ready to put players on the ground, and even fighting the Taurus Demon all combine to raise the Burg from good to great.
4. Sekiro: Outskirts of Ashina
Sekiro’s Ashina Outskirts had one of the toughest jobs in all of Soulsborne. It had to force veteran players to unlearn their old habits while also educating newcomers on the many systems they would need to master. It is successful on all levels. The entire level is a master class in progression. The early enemies don’t do much damage and are easy to deal with, and the mini-bosses force players to use what they’ve learned against mobs of garbage in a much more stressful environment. That this area also leads into the rest of this masterpiece of a game is another feather in his cap.
3. Ring of Elden: Limgrave
If one word describes everything Limgrave had to convey to Elden Ring players, it would be “scale.” No game in the broader Soulsborne franchise was as expansive as this one, and Limgrave had to teach both that and the various exploratory systems new to the game. It’s entirely possible to spend dozens of hours plumbing all the depths of this first zone, and many players new to the series did just that. Limgrave teaches not only the explore-die-explore mechanics that all of Elden Ring would be based on, but also embraced some of the most evil tricks FromSoftware has even done, with teleportation traps that send unsuspecting players up to the hellish world of Caelid and beyond.
2. Demon’s Souls: Ticket Gates
Gates of Boletaria from Demon’s Souls managed to scale almost better than Elden Ring thirteen years before the release of the latter game. Once you leave the already impressive Nexus to begin your journey as a demon slayer, you are greeted by this massive castle and a locked door, and the obvious way to go is to somehow open said door. That task requires exploring the entire area, dealing with some of the baddest traps FromSoftware has ever created, and learning about its signature looping level design and combat. Throw in Demon’s Souls’ unforgiving checkpoint system, and Gates is one of the best levels in the series. Too bad the boss of Phalanx is what he is.
1. Bloodborne: Central Yharnam
Bloodborne is one of FromSoftware’s greatest achievements and a testament to its world-building and mechanical prowess. The first sight of Central Yharnam may not be as impressive as Limgrave or the Gates of Boletaria, but once players start delving into its intricacies, nothing comes close. Every corner hides something new, and just when players thought they had seen everything about the level, a new path opens up. The level also does a fantastic job of teaching the player how Bloodborne works while obfuscating the world they had come to know. The area’s two bosses, Cleric Beast and Father Gascoigne, are two of the best in a game with dozens of fantastic boss skins. Central Yharnam is the complete package and the best opening level in Souls.